A Tommy writes home

Harry Lamin was a 41 year-old lacemaker from Darbyshire when he was conscripted in the winter of 1917. His letters home are being posted, ninety years to the day after they were written, by his grandson. I haven’t had any luck with the subscription, which is a pity because having them arrive in the in-box would be the best way of following Harry’s experience (if anyone figures this out, let me know!) but his unfolding life on the Front (he’s “currently” in Italy) is quite an experience:

It must have upset Uncle a great deal when he heard about Jack’s death and no doubt it would make him worse. The weather here is still very cold at night but it is grand in the day. I don’t suppose the war will be over just yet it looks like lasting another twelve months to me, I hope I’m wrong. I think America has got to have a good to try at it before it finishes. Things look very bad in England as regards food they seem short all over of course we get our usual rations which is none to big, but we cant grumble we have missed something coming out here and leaving Flanders I hope we don’t go back again, things are very quiet out here, well they have been up to now but we don’t know how long they going to last. (From 7 Feb 1918)

The letters are also linked to the Battalion’s war diary, the record of movements, battles, training exercises, baths day, etc.

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  1. Carlina on February 28, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Very interesting! I always get giddy about primary sources and love to see how they appear in different formats on the internet from the digitized versions available on the websites of historical societies to the things my uni subscribes to. Even on livejournal they have the on-going journal of a surgeon that would be contemporary with John Watson!

    In terms of getting the subscription directly in your inbox, I don’t see that option on this blog; I could be wrong though. However, you can have it RSS-ed directly to your browser. If you look at the address bar there in the right hand corner see that orange thingy that looks like a radar signal? Click on it and it should open up a page that asks you if you want to subscribe to this feed using…there you can scroll down and have it either sent to your browser, google, or whatever you may fancy.

    I actually have your blog RSS-ed to my browser (I use firefox) so that I can simply click the tab and see what has been added and go directly to it.

    I hope this helps…somewhat…maybe…

    I hope things are well with you and your family. My best wishes to all :).

  2. Carlina on February 28, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Oh..I should add having it directly RSS-ed to your browser is the live bookmark choice. Sorry about that!

    Best 🙂 !

  3. Roxanne on February 28, 2008 at 12:46 pm


    (I tried to send this to you a Private Message via the VBC, but the system would not allow me to login for reasons unknown.)

    “pmail?” I Googled it and got a hit for “Pegasus mail.” So how do we go about exchanging email addresses in an appropriate manner?

    I don’t know if this is the least expensive hostelry (as I wrote, I reserved beds on an impulse), but here is the link: HI-Baltimore Hostel

    Hope this helps. It would be fun to have other VBC members at the hostel.


  4. Roxanne on February 28, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    P.S. “This is research?” What a cool link. Not a day passes without my remarking at least once, “I love the Internet!”

    Thanks, again, for sharing (again).


  5. parelle on February 28, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    This looks fascinating – thank you for pointing this out! You can try using a RSS to Email service like http://www.rssfwd.com/ to convert this to an email.

  6. admin on February 28, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    “I always get giddy about primary sources”

    Thanks, Carlina, for reminding me why I love my readers. How many writers have “fans” who get giddy about primary sources? How many writers have readers who think about primary sources at all? Who know what the hell primary sources are?

    You made my day.


  7. Carlina on February 29, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Hi Laurie!

    My blushes! I’m glad I could make your day! I think it’s great that you also use primary sources for your novels. I mean how many authors really do that? Sit down and go through newspapers, letters, journals, just to get the ambiance of their writing just right? I know its exhaustive work and requires much patience (believe me I know), but I think its what really makes your novels great, but I’m sure you knew that already :-). I think its also part of the reason why your readers love your work. You put much work, not only in the characterization of your novels, but also in the historic setting and context.

    Oh, I think about primary sources all the time. I work with them (journals, letters, newspapers) in my own research and I just love them! Most of my research is based in the nineteenth century and early twentieth (barring the occasion skip back to the paleolithic period) and focuses on health disparities (both skeletal and historic). There is nothing more exciting for me than being at the Library of Congress and getting that batch of documents, holding them, that smell they have, seeing where the writer paused, dropped his ink well, wrote the letter on his knees in a rush, wrote it on a train, etc. They are almost like time machines and windows in to the past to me. In some respects, they are the only connection I have with a person or time I may be researching. Of course I’m going to get giddy about them! Yet, its not just that connection, but the insight they give into the context of the past….those voices…well you can’t be that in my opinion. That’s why they make me giddy! And when you find that needle in a haystack you just can’t beat that feeling. This is especially true when you have been looking through years of a historical newspaper on microfilm, hoping to find some little mention of something and after days…boom! There it is!

    So yes it is exhaustive and one may need to upgrade the prescription on their spectacles (I’ve had that happen), but well worth it in the end.

    Once again I’m glad I made your day! I hope you have a good one today too and your family is well.

    My best and thanks again 🙂 .

  8. vicki on February 29, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Roxanne, if you’re having trouble logging into the VBC, try closing your browser, opening a new one and then logging in. That usually clears up any logging-in glitches. If you’re still having problems, email me at info at laurierking.com. Oh, and I think “pmail” refers to “private message” via the VBC. 🙂

    And thanks to everyone for sharing the RSS info!

  9. vicki on February 29, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    My great-grandfather was an army doctor in WWI, and kept a journal during his time working at the field hospital. My sister was working with my grandfather to decipher some of the handwriting, but he died before they could get done. 🙁 What they did finish is amazing, however. I’d love it if we could finish that and get it up on the internet. Surely a handwriting expert could help us get it done.

  10. Carlina on February 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Vicki that’s really cool. I’d love to have a peeper at that! Reading historic handwriting can be a bit of a challenge, but once your eyes are trained to it, its a gift that doesn’t wane. Of course doctor lingo and terminology is another issue, especially since the lingo changes through time so you have to know past as well as present words.

    Try reading late 18th century and 19th century documents…eep! Some of the letters I’ve read by Civil War soldiers were clearly written while they were huddled in their tents and on their knees. You can see how the paper folded across their laps and how they wrote hurriedly. The words will be slanted, the scrawled, then a sloppy bit of ink thrown on the page and so forth. It’s amazing…all goes back to that connection! It’s amazing at times.

  11. vicki on March 1, 2008 at 4:22 am

    Oooh–I’d love to have the benefit of your trained eye in looking at the untranscribed portion, Carlina! I’ll ask my grandmother for a look at the journal, and if I can scan the pages in without damaging them, I’ll try and post them somewhere so you can have a look.

    Like those Civil War soldiers, my great-grandfather sometimes wrote under difficult conditions, which may account for some of the legibility issues. Even so, the writing is lovely and lyrical, like so many examples of writing that came out of WWI. That sort of language faded from use between the world wars.

    I agree about how handwritten documents reveal so many interesting things about the conditions under which they were written–and even about the person writing it. As much as I love electronic communication and the clarity of pixellated characters, they just can’t offer any of that richness and tactile/historic interest you find in the physical reality of an old handwritten document.

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